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Author Notes: Barmbrack is a yeast bread made with dried fruit that has been soaked in hot tea. It is traditionally served at Halloween in Ireland. Not only is it delicious but it also contains your fortune in the form of symbolic trinkets hidden in the dough. When the Barmbrack was cut, everyone would look to see whose slice contained the golden ring - or, who was destined to be married within the year!
Nowadays, Barmbracks are usually baked with a ring inside them but, traditionally, other 'fortunes' included: the Thimble (you will stay a spinster), a Button (you will remain a bachelor), a Bean or a piece of Rag (symbolizing poverty or misfortune), a Silver Coin (riches and wealth); the Stick (is a sign of an unhappy, quarrelsome marriage). All of which makes it sound like a very maudlin, scary bread but it's only a bit of craic or fun as they say at home.
Whichever trinkets you include, make sure they are not plastic or reactive. I used a wooden button and a metal thimble, a matchstick with the head snipped off, a white bean, a gold ring, and a silver dime (not a copper coin).
This recipe is adapted from two recipes, both by the Irish chef Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School. I combined the elements I loved from each and tweaked the dried-fruit ingredients to suit my taste. For example, Allen's original recipe calls for candied peel and glacé (Maraschino) cherries, neither of which I like. Instead I used dried cherries and dried blueberries but kept the measurements the same, so you too can adjust as desired. This is a fruit-heavy dish but it is moist and tender, rather than dense. Don't be afraid of the quantity, but feel free to adjust. —Deborah Reeves
Serves 2 loaves or rounds serves about 20 people
Pre-Soak the Fruit
- 4 ounces raisins
- 4 ounces sultanas
- 4 ounces currants
- 2 ounces dried cherries
- 2 ounces dried blueberries
- 1.5 cups strong, hot black tea (whiskey is also sometimes used)
- Put the dried fruit into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight or at least a few hours.
- In the morning, drain the liquid and reserve it in a measuring jug to be used later. Set fruit aside.
Making the Cake
- 1 pound all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 ounce unsalted butter
- 3/4 ounce instant yeast or regular yeast + 1tsp sugar + 1tsp tepid milk
- 1 large egg, whisked with a fork
- 1/2 pint "milk + tea" mixture (see #3 below)
- "Sugar Glaze" for the top - 1 tablespoon bakers sugar + 1 tablespoon boiling water mixed.
- Trinkets such as a gold ring, a thimble, a button, a silver coin (see Author Notes above)
- It's not necessary, but it helps, if all utensils and bowls are warm before starting to make a Barmbrack. This facilitates the rising of the dough. If not, you should factor in slightly more time for the dough to rise.
- Sieve the flour, sugar, spices, and salt into a large mixing bowl or the warmed bowl of your electric mixer.
- Make up 1/2 a pint of liquid using the reserved tea and topping up the mixture to 1/2 a pint with cold milk.
- Mix the yeast with 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of tepid milk and leave for 4-5 minutes, until it becomes creamy and slightly bubbly.
- Melt the butter, then pour it into the cold milk-tea mixture and stir till the butter forms into little lumps. Add the egg to the mixture.
- Pour the tea-milk-egg mixture, and the yeast mixture, into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Knead well, either by hand or in an electric mixer at High speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be quite stiff, but elastic.
- Incorporate the plumped fruit into the dough. To do this, I rolled out the dough then spread the fruit over it. Fold the dough in half, then half again, and gently knead the fruit into the dough until it is quite evenly distributed.
- Return to the bowl. Cover with a clean, warm cloth or dishtowel and leave in a warm place until the dough has risen and doubled in size (about one hour).
- Gently knead again for about 2-3 minutes. Cut mixture in half and shape into two rounds (or grease two 5x8" loaf tins if you would prefer loaves). Add the ring, and any of the trinkets listed, tucking them well in and ensuring they are hidden by the dough. Cover again and leave to rise for another 45 minutes until well puffed up.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown and fully cooked. You can place a tinfoil "hat" on top if it looks like the bread is getting too dark. OPTIONAL: Brush the bread with a Sugar Glaze and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes. This gives the bread a lovely sugary, stickybun glow.
- Turn out on a wire wrack to cool for 20 minutes. Cut into thick slices and see who gets the wedding ring! Can be served warm, cool or toasted but always with plenty of butter!